Happy Easter….and welcome home!
Many of you were traveling last weekend, taking the opportunity of a long weekend from work or the school break to take a bit of a vacation or gather with family. That’s the way it always is on holidays, and our worshipping congregations on those days are a rich mix of parishioners, visitors, guests and extended family members. But last Sunday the percentage of visitors and guests, as compared to our regular All Saints’ folk, was higher than usual.
That’s a wonderful thing – God drew the people who needed to be here, who needed to see and hear and sing and experience the message of Christ’s triumph over sin and death in the resurrection. We hope that they were refreshed and uplifted and will be moved to seek further after God, to search out a community of faith, either here at All Saints’ or somewhere else that will welcome and support their questions and their gifts, if they do not already have such a church. But this week we gather for worship in a different way.
You know how it is when you’ve hosted a big party and had a really good time, but then after the guests have gone you put your feet up for a bit and talk over with your family how the party went, and who said what to whom, and what worked well, and what disasters you managed to avoid? You can let your hair down, and in the intimacy of family or close friends, reflect on what the event was like.
Well, this Second Sunday of Easter is a bit like that, only we’re not saying “Well, how was your Easter? How did it go?”
We are saying “How is your Easter? What is your experience of this season of resurrection, of this celebration of new life?” because Easter is an entire season - fifty days, to be precise – outlasting Lent; our celebration is bigger than our preparation, the power of resurrection is greater than the sum of all our repentence. And so we have an opportunity today to reflect on the meaning of Easter, the meaning of salvation, the reason for all our Easter celebrations in the first place; it’s like that conversation after the guests have gone home.
We heard in John’s Gospel this morning about the disciples gathering in a locked room on the evening on the day of resurrection, not sure about what had happened, not fully grasping the meaning of the empty tomb that Peter had seen, or the words that Mary Magdalene delivered to them after her encounter with the Risen Christ. Jesus comes to them, bids them his peace, shows them his wounds, and then commissions them to carry on with his mission; but Thomas is not there when Jesus shows up. Having not been present for the disciples’ initial experience of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas wants his own experience, perhaps doesn’t like the feeling that he was somehow left out; in a sense he’s saying, “Me, too.”
So a week later Jesus appears to the disciples again; this time Thomas is with them and Jesus addresses him directly: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." In the presence of Jesus and in the midst of the disciples, the community of resurrection, Thomas was able to say: "My Lord and my God!" Jesus then goes on to say: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
This is not Jesus taking a pot-shot at Thomas because he needed visible proof of the resurrection; instead, it’s a blessing on all of us who were not present in those first heady days between Easter Sunday and Jesus’ ascension. Jesus is blessing all of us down through the centuries who have come to faith in him in whatever way and in whatever time we have done so; the path has been different for each one of us, God working with each one of us in our uniqueness, calling each one of us to draw together into our true being as the Body of Christ.
Several weeks ago Bishop Beckwith was here for his parish visitation - it was a wonderful day on many levels; and something he said in his sermon caught the attention of several of us, at least. He said: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; certainty is.” Those words apply just as well today, and in the context of this Gospel reading, as they did a few weeks ago. Because we all have doubts, we all have questions, we often need to wrestle through or struggle through our understanding of faith and our experience of Christ.
And we sometimes wonder if our prayers and if our faithful action to reach out to help another, to feed someone, to offer comfort or justice makes any difference; what good does our small effort do when the world is so full of pain and sorrow and injustice? Why wouldn’t we have doubts?
One of the real blessings of being a Christian in the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican tradition, is that we are expected to bring our whole selves to church; our minds and hearts and bodies, our fears and joys, our sin and our salvation, our questions and our deep knowing, our doubt and our trust. We bring all of this to church: to worship, to faith, to our practice of living as Christians day-by-day.
That’s important for us to remember and reflect on as we gather because we are a community of faith – not just individuals of faith - and in the midst of the community we can spiritually grow and stretch, we can support one another in times of stress and pain, we can reason and pray together about what it means to be faithful disciples of Jesus; and any honest question is fair game and an opportunity to draw closer to God.
I often tell Confirmation classes (when we are discussing the Creeds) that the word credo, which usually gets translated “I believe,” literally means “I give my heart to;” when we say the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed we are giving our hearts to God in words that were formulated out of the experience of Christians in the very early centuries of the Church. These may not be your words or my words, but they are our words – they belong to all of us, to the community of faith gathered throughout history and throughout the world; and we give our hearts to God in faith and in trust, as expressed in the words of Church’s creeds – even with our questions and our doubts.
And so we come back to that place where we can ask, “How is your Easter? How is your experience of living the resurrection life? What is it like for you to be a member of Christ’s Body, Jesus’ hands and feet in the world? How do you experience the eternal life of heaven - God’s Kingdom – here and now?” The answers that we give, the answers that we hear from one another, the answers that we live each day are part of the life we live in Jesus’ name.And the questions that we ask ourselves and one another are blessed by God to be doorways into faith and trust and life abundant.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
alive and at large in the world,
help me to follow and find you there today,
in the places where I work,
and make plans.
Take me as a disciple of your Kingdom,
to see through your eyes,
and hear the questions you are asking,
to welcome all [folk] with your trust and truth,
and to change the things that contradict God’s love
by the power of the cross
and the freedom of your spirit. Amen.
~ Bishop John V. Taylor (1914-2001), Bishop of Winchester,
General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012